The Suns are one win away from a berth in the Western Conference finals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Phoenix Suns are one win away from a berth in the Western Conference finals after dominating the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night in a 110-80 win to take a 3-2 series lead. The Suns benefitted from dominant second-half scoring, as four players finished the win in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 28 points and seven rebounds. Deandre Ayton added 20 points as the Suns made a point to get him more involved on offense, and Mikal Bridges broke out of his shooting slump to finish with 14 points.
Despite a strong first half, Dallas fell behind by double-digits in the early going of the second half and never made it back into the game. Poor shooting and 12 turnovers in the third quarter blew the game wide open in favor of the Suns, and now the Mavericks face elimination in Game 6 Thursday night.
Here are three takeaways from Game 5 between the Suns and Mavericks.
1. Suns rekindled that magic from early in this series
Phoenix looked like a shell of itself over the weekend in back-to-back losses to Dallas. Chris Paul had uncharacteristic turnovers in Game 3, and completely fouled out in Game 4. The Mavericks looked every bit Phoenix’s equal while playing at home, but in Game 5 on Tuesday the Suns reminded Dallas — and everyone in the league — why they were the best team of the regular season.
While the first half was equally matched, the Suns asserted their dominance in the third quarter and never looked back. Phoenix outscored Dallas 33-14 in the third quarter, holding the Mavericks to just 6-for-16 from the field while forcing 12 turnovers. Dallas looked completely out of sorts on offense, settling for poor shots due to Phoenix’s stifling defense, and looked completely helpless on the other end while Booker and Bridges just continued to cook after halftime.
It was the exact type of performance the Suns needed after two lackluster showings on the road. They rotated to the open man better on defense and limited Doncic’s ability to drive to the rim and kick it out to the perimeter. Without those kick-outs to guys like Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber it forced the Mavericks to beat the Suns with just Doncic, and similar to the first two games of this series that plan didn’t work.
2. Dallas role players were M.I.A.
Entering Game 5, the Mavericks had three guys shooting well over 40 percent from deep in Finney-Smith, Bullock and Kleber. On Tuesday night, those three guys combined to go just 3-for-12, with Bullock missing all three attempts he took. Dallas isn’t going to win many games with all three of those guys struggling, and it was just a piece of the larger picture that was the Mavericks’ offense completely sputtering in the second half.
Between missed open looks and silly turnovers, Dallas looked like it completely forgot the formula that won it the last two games. The 12 turnovers the Mavericks committed in the third quarter were the most a team has committed in a playoff quarter since the Knicks in 2012, per ESPN Stats and Info. That’s just ugly.
It wasn’t just the role players, either. While Doncic finished the game with 28 points, he struggled yet again to be efficient from beyond the arc, going just 2-for-8 from downtown. He’s now 3-for-18 over the last two games from long range. Although Doncic racked up 11 boards, he finished with just two assists, reverting back to not completely trusting his teammates, something that Dallas head coach Jason Kidd has touched on numerous times this season.
After finishing Game 4 with 22 assists, the Mavericks only had nine Tuesday night. That’s just an unacceptable number for a team that features as great a passer as Doncic. That low assist total paints the picture of the lack of ball movement from Dallas, and it can’t go into Game 6 — an elimination game — playing the same way it played Tuesday night.
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3. Suns on brink of the conference finals for second-straight year
Phoenix completely outplayed Dallas in a number of ways Tuesday night, and now the Suns carry momentum heading into Game 6, a closeout game on the road. While Phoenix has been in this exact position before in this series, up big before hitting the road, something about Game 5 felt different than their first two wins of this series. It wasn’t just that the Suns forced Doncic to beat them while limiting everyone around him, they also did a decent job of limiting his overall impact on the game. Doncic wasn’t getting to the rim as easily as he has been throughout this series, and Phoenix’s plan to stop switching on ball screens helped keep Bridges in front of Doncic.
That feels like a formula the Suns can carry over to Game 6, and while I don’t think Dallas’ role players will play as poorly as they did in Game 5, I do think Phoenix can pull out another win to close out this series. If that happens, it will be the first time the Suns have reached back-to-back Western Conference finals since 2004-2006.